AS weekends go, it could probably not have gone any worse for Hull Stingrays and their Elite League play-off hopes.
Two defeats, coupled with unfavourable results elsewhere have left Sylvain Cloutier’s team needing other results to go their way on the final weekend of the regular season to avoid missing out on the play-offs for a second successive year.
A miserable 8-2 defeat at Gardiner Conference champions Dundee Stars on Saturday night – Hull giving themselves too much to do after being 4-0 down at the end of the first period – was followed by a narrow 3-2 loss at Sheffield Steelers 24 hours later.
It leaves Hull in the eighth and final play-off spot, one point ahead of an in-form Fife Flyers, who have the luxury of a game in hand on their Yorkshire rivals.
The minimum requirement for Hull is to win their home against the Steelers on Sunday night. They must then hope Fife then fail to win both their games against Braehead Clan.
Should Fife win both games, however, Hull – still having to beat the Steelers – would then rely on the result of the final day clash between Coventry Blaze and Cardiff Devils, the two other teams in the play-off picture.
And while the mood in East Yorkshire may be a sombre one this morning, all is certainly not lost.
Where there is a will, there is usually a way and there are too many variables hanging over the final 48 hours of the regular season for something not to go Hull’s way. Nobody would have anticipated every result going against Hull in the weekend just gone.
Certainly, they need to take care of their own business first and can be confident they can repeat the convincing victory they enjoyed on home ice over the Steelers just over a week ago. The Steelers are already assured of being third seeds in the play-offs and may be looking to conserve some energy ahead of a knockout phase that has seen them exit at the first time of asking in each of the past two seasons.
Steelers can do also Hull a massive favour 24 hours earlier in South Yorkshire when they host Coventry at the Motorpoint Arena, but it is also reasonable to expect that Gerad Adams and his team – desperate to end a disappointing campaign on a high with a first play-off win since 2009 – will be in no mood to do either side any favours.
The euphoria of Wednesday’s 7-3 home win over Fife was long forgotten after just 20 minutes on Tayside when Hull’s hopes of adding to their best-ever Elite League regular season haul of 50 points were blown away by a rampant Stars. Matters may have improved slightly in the last two periods – consolation goals coming from captain Jeff Smith and Jason Silverthorn – but the result will have made for a miserable bus ride home, particularly when news filtered through of wins for Cardiff and Fife against Braehead and champions Belfast respectively.
It was a much more combative Hull who took on the Steelers – 3-1 winners in Edinburgh on Saturday – on Sunday night, but they were always chasing the game after going behind to goals from Robert Dowd and Jon Phillips.
Carl Lauzon halved the deficit at 34.10 with a short-handed strike, only for Chris Blight to restore the two-goal lead at 49.20. Lauzon struck again, this time on the powerplay, but that was as close as Stingrays got.
Their disappointment will only have been compounded when they later heard of wins for Coventry, Cardiff and Fife – shoot-out winners at Dundee.
While owner/assistant coach Bobby McEwan felt obliged to apologise to fans who had made the 670-mile round trip to Dundee on Saturday, player-coach Cloutier – speaking after his team’s loss in Sheffield – remains hopeful events can go his team’s way next weekend.
“I thought we played a pretty good game in Sheffield, but we lost to the better team,” said Cloutier.
“It’s disappointing but, fingers crossed, some results can go our way now on Saturday night. It’s going to go right down to the last seconds on Sunday.
“It is going to be an exciting finish to the regular season.”
Adams, who saw Stefan Meyer (2) and Max Lacroix fire his side to victory to Edinburgh, admitted after the win over Hull that his team were capable of better, but was glad to extend their winning streak to three games.
“I don’t think we were at our best,” said Adams. “Yet we still took the points against a desperate Hull side.
“They are fighting for any points they can get right now and have the play offs in their sights. They made the game scrappy, slowing it down when they could.
“We didn’t play our best game I think most people saw that - but we did enough to win, kept our run going and, right now, I will take that.”